The last time these two teams met was on March 24, 2019. It was game six of the second round of the AJHL playoffs and not only did the Crusaders win the game 5-3 but they eliminated the Fort McMurray Oil Barons from the playoffs.
It capped off a series that saw the two teams score 33 and rack up a combined 246 penalty minutes. It was high flying and skilled hockey but it was clear that these two teams did not like each other one bit.
So heading into tonight, I was expecting more of the same. Lots of offensive chances and lots of extracurricular activities, if you know what I mean. Here’s how things went down from the SPA:
The Crusaders came out flying in the opening frame. Head Coach Adam Manah had his top line of William Zapernick, Arjun Atwal, and Carter Savoie, who combined for 11 points last night in the win over Whitecourt, and tonight that trio got off to a solid start. They possessed the puck in the Oil Barons zone for almost the entire first shift and immediately after they came off the ice, the Cru got their first grade ‘A’ scoring chance courtesy of Brett Weischorster.
The Cru peppered ten first period shots at Oil Barons goalie Evan Fradette but he turned them all aside. Fort Mac was able to muster just three shots at Jordan Frey, who got the start in lieu of Carter Gylander (it was scheduled before Gylander was pulled in last nights win), and the first-year Crusader handled them all with ease.
We went into the second period with the scoreboard showing a pair of zeros.
There was a lot of late hits in the first period, which was just each team trying to establish some sort of physical dominance, but nothing too over the top. The second period was more of the same. Each time was trying to play a physical brand of hockey, but there was nothing I would classify as ‘dirty’.
Carter Savoie got the Crusaders first good looks of the period, but he was stopped on back-to-back partial breakaways. Jarred White also got two great looks but he was also stopped. My biggest takeaway from the first few minutes of this period was that Fradette was absolutely locked in.
The home side would eventually strike first when Jarred White and Arjun Atwal perfectly executed a shorthanded two-man breakaway which resulted in White firing home his first goal against his former team. The lead was short-lived as Logan Bromhead jumped on a loose puck and flipped it over a sprawled out Jordan Frey.
With under five minutes to go in the period, the Crusaders were gifted a five-on-three powerplay and they took full advantage. First, it was Michael Benning blasting a bomb from the point and then just seconds after, Carter Savoie let go of a one-timer from the bottom of the circle and made this a 3-1 game.
For the second straight game, the Crusaders entered the third period with a lead and for the second straight game, they did a fantastic job of protecting the lead.
They pushed the pace offensively while not taking any risks that would put their two-goal lead in jeopardy. Daron Cyr almost popped home his first career AJHL goal but rang it off the iron. The Cru also got another look on the powerplay but didn’t capitalize.
Emotionally, things never got as tense as they did during the playoffs last year… until the 14:05 mark of the third period when a scramble in front of the MOB net suddenly turned into a little bit of a melee. Brett Weischorster was naturally right in the middle of it and when he was led out of the scrum, he was fired up and so was the Crusaders bench. He was promptly tossed from the game along with Jacob Franczak and Oil Barons forward Hunter Lamb (son of former Oiler Mark Lamb).
44 penalty minutes were handed out on the play and the result was two minutes of five-on-three followed by a three-minute man advantage for the MOB (that eventually turned into a six-on-three advantage), which the Crusaders promptly killed off.
Will Zapernick would fire home an empty-netter and that would do it from the SPA on a Saturday night. The Crusaders played the most complete game I’ve seen from them this season and improved their record to 5-0 to start the 2019/20 campaign. 4-1 the final.
- I know I talk about them a lot in these wraps, but it is special to cover a team that has two high-end draft-eligible players. Savoie and Benning were the best players on the ice from the first period onwards. Watching those two work the powerplay was incredible and when they’re clicking, they simply cannot be stopped.
- In his first game against his former club, I though Jarred White looked very good. He brought a solid physical element, as he always does, and had four or five high-quality looks in the offensive zone. Was nice to see him get a goal as well.
- Jordan Frey continues to impress me. In over four periods of work this weekend, he surrendered just one goal. Having two good goaltenders was a massive reason why the Cru finished first in the North Division last season and if Frey can keep this up, it will make life much easier for Head Coach Adam Manah and company.
- There were a couple of questionable hits throughout the game and the refs called them all. Credit to the Crusaders for not retaliating and negating a powerplay. Knowing how to walk the line of discipline can be the difference on a lot of nights. It’s an important trait to have.
- Coming into tonight, only the Crusaders and Olds Grizzlies had perfect penalty kills. Based on what I saw tonight, the recipe for success for Sherwood Park appears to be aggressiveness. They pour on the pressure and don’t let their opposition get comfortable at any point. They looked good tonight and got rewarded with a shorthanded goal.
- Their powerplay was running at just over 8% so far this season so it was nice to see them get rewarded with a pair of goals. They’ve looked good for the most part this season but just haven’t been able to score. “Gripping the sticks too tight” is what Adam Manah said to me earlier this week on Inside The Cru and now that they have some goals under their belt, I’m thinking things will start to snowball.
- Brennan McDonnell didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but he had a really solid game in my opinion. He broke up a handful of good rushes and made some smart plays. I liked him in both games this weekend.
- They had a lot of offensive chances in the first half of the game and they simply couldn’t bury them. Would have been nice for them to jump out and grab the lead earlier than they did.
- I didn’t win the 50/50 (it was a tough night to find things to put in this section of the wrap up).
The Crusaders get some time to rest up now and enjoy their perfect start to the season. They’ll be back in action on Thursday when they take on the Drumheller Dragons at the ‘AJHL Showcase’ in Camrose. Puck drop is set for 4:30 pm.s